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Spectator Sport: Spare us the 2018 World Cup!

Andy Anson and Simon Greenberg are two splendid, clubbable chaps. Their current gig is running England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup, and forgive me for sounding disloyal but I hope these two delightful fellows find themselves disappointed when Fifa votes on the 2018 and 2022 bids in early December.

30 October 2010

12:00 AM

30 October 2010

12:00 AM

Andy Anson and Simon Greenberg are two splendid, clubbable chaps. Their current gig is running England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup, and forgive me for sounding disloyal but I hope these two delightful fellows find themselves disappointed when Fifa votes on the 2018 and 2022 bids in early December.

Andy Anson and Simon Greenberg are two splendid, clubbable chaps. Their current gig is running England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup, and forgive me for sounding disloyal but I hope these two delightful fellows find themselves disappointed when Fifa votes on the 2018 and 2022 bids in early December.

Because one thing England certainly doesn’t need is the World Cup in 2018. What is this bid all about? Everyone knows we have an obsessive and loutish football culture, backed by a heap of spectacular stadiums that bring cities to a standstill on match days, a few crappy roads that can link them, and, possibly by then, some good trains.


But think back to the summer: try to recall the incessant bombast, constant phone-in nonsense, interminable TV promotions, and ghastly boasting that surrounded England in South Africa. And that was when we had a rotten team and everyone knew we weren’t going to win. Now multiply that by squillions if England run 2018, especially since, as hosts, our chances of getting to the semis take a big hike. Nightmare, eh?

And it’s not as if we don’t get any sport here. After the 2012 Olympics, there’s the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and the 2019 Cricket World Cup and the 2014 Hockey World Cup, and we have a good chance of hosting the Athletics World Championships, also in 2015. Doesn’t it seem just a bit, er, needy to be banging on about the 2018 World Cup? We’re not the only sporting nation in the world, and we’re far from being the best at football. We have reached one major soccer final (and won it), while Germany has reached eight. Spain are currently world and European champions, and on any level seem to have more right to it. Plus, the weather’s nicer. And anyway, the whole bidding process is so tainted thanks to the revelations in the Sunday Times of corruption and skulduggery at the highest level of Fifa which means there’s only a handful of voting delegates left who haven’t been compromised.

England has promised Fifa it can make more money than any other World Cup venue. No doubt, but though profitability and slick organisation are worthy goals, the ultimate test of a great sporting tournament runs deeper. The Italian World Cup of 1990 brought together high art and popular culture; it introduced football fans to Puccini and made a worldwide star of Pavarotti. The wonderful Barcelona Olympics of 1992 declared that Spain had cast off the introspection of the Franco years. Beijing 2008 was insanely lavish but a great symbol of the new China; the German World Cup showed that that recently reunited nation could do, ahem, fun as well as keep the streets clean. These tournaments captured the world’s imagination; they drew in new fans and inspired existing ones. They celebrated something broader than just sport; they announced the reawakening of a city, a country, or more. What’s the 2018 English World Cup supposed to celebrate? That the M40 toll road is open again?

There is an infinite amount of money that major sporting events can soak up. Instead of the World Cup I would like some of that money poured into giving kids a decent sports education. And building some fields where they can practise it.

Talking of World Cups, New Zealand host rugby’s 2011 tournament and the All Blacks will be here in a few days for the autumn internationals. They should mince them all. But if you run into any cocky crowing Kiwis in the pubs of south-west London, look into their eyes and you might see a trace of panic. They’re thinking: ‘Oh shit, we’ve peaked too soon again.’

Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.


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